Phillies Trade Rumors: Cliff Lee off the Market, but Is It the Right Decision?
First reported by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, the Phillies have decided against dealing their lefty ace because their intention is to build around the three aces of Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay. Trading Lee would defeat that purpose.
Even though dealing Lee would be difficult as it is due to his monster contract signed before the 2011 season, it's not like he's got a Barry Zito-type contract where he's completely unmovable. Lee is an ace in baseball, and Zito is far from it, yet is overpaid.
In fact, Lee's five-year, $120 million deal is less than Zito's seven-year, $126 million contract.
Heyman reports that Lee's deal has approximately $97 million left to him through the 2015 season and he's also got a vesting option worth $27.5 million for 2016 that, if not met, becomes a club option. Nevertheless, it's got a $12.5 million buyout, which isn't cheap for a buyout by any means. That could turn teams off as well, even if Lee was available.
But what may hurt the Phillies the most by holding onto Lee is the potential return they could get for him. For teams who need an ace of Lee's caliber and have the prospects to get a deal done with the Phillies, Lee's yet another pitcher off the market who could be retained not only this year, but the next, the year after and the year after that at the very least.
Under the new CBA, which doesn't award draft pick compensation to teams losing two-month player rentals (i.e. impending free agents acquired in trades), players under team control past the rest of the season are that much more valuable.
In referring to teams that match the characteristics I listed in the last paragraph, the most obvious fit is the Texas Rangers. The Rangers, who have one of the best farm systems in baseball and also one with prospects that match up with the Phillies' positional needs, will no longer get the opportunity to acquire Lee this season, even though the Rangers aren't on his list of trades to teams he'd need to accept, yet Rangers GM Jon Daniels apparently likes Lee more than recently-extended Hamels.
Prospects the Rangers possess who would likely interest the Phillies include third baseman Mike Olt, center fielder Leonys Martin, left-handed starter Martin Perez, catcher Jorge Alfaro, right-hander Cody Buckel and shortstop Jurickson Profar.
Olt is close to being major league-ready, as is Martin and Perez. Alfaro and Buckel are a bit farther away from the majors, as is Profar, with the latter being not only one of the top five prospects in baseball, but practically as untouchable as good.
For the moment, this is a smart baseball decision, as the Phillies are a better team with Lee than without him. But will this prove to be a smart baseball decision in and for the future? Only time will tell on that front.
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